Question:

During Jesus' generation and the Roman Empire, how much freedom did a person have under the Roman law to worship, conduct business and personal affairs? And, can you give references? Some treatthe Romansas bullies and dictators, and some Caesars were, but the Bible puts many in a good reference. Paul was able to travel freely and teach in the cities as he was instructed by the Spirit inthe Roman Empire, but it was the Jews that stirred up trouble. However, the Romans were not squeamish about using brute and lethal force to quell a rebellion.

The Bible speaks as the Romans thought of Christianity as a sect of the Jews. Would Christians have had all the same religious freedoms as Judaism?


Answer:

Freedom in the Roman Empire depended much upon your class. The vast majority of the empire was populated by slaves and foreigners who had very little rights. Among the freeborn were the citizens (humiliores) and the upper-class (honestiores). Even the upper-class had its division with the principles (princeps) being at the top. Punishment for the same crime would vary greatly depending on the person's class -- the most severe punishments for the lowest class.

Slavery wasn't permanent. Slaves were allowed, and even encouraged, to save funds to purchase their freedom. Slaves abandoned by their masters because of illness or injury were automatically granted their freedom.

Religion was seen as diverse in the Roman view, having many gods blended from numerous nations. What made Judaism and Christianity so unappealing to the Romans was their insistence that there was only one God and all the rest were non-existent. The Romans met the thought of only one God with derision and hatred. (An attitude, by the way, which is growing once again.) As time progressed increasing pressure was brought against the Jews and Christians to make them conform to the typical many gods belief system and when they refused to cave in, they became the target of persecution.

One major reason for the antagonism is that among the many gods Rome worshiped was the emperor himself. That he wasn't accepted as a god was seen as an attack against the Roman government.

Morality from a Christian's viewpoint was extremely low. Yes, there was freedom to do business, but that freedom extended to a freedom to cheat customers. The state was an ever present problem for the business owner, not because of rules, but because of the demands for taxes and other payments else "problems" would develop. About the one code among all else was a desire for "peace." So long as there weren't any wild disruptions, the government didn't step in (Acts 19:40).

This desire for peace also led to demands that there be no large associations or gatherings other than those sanctioned by the state. Such gatherings were look at as breeding grounds for riots. Thus, Christians gathering for worship also triggered suspicion among the Romans.

Sources:

Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jerome Carcopino.
The Man in the Roman Street by Harold Mattingly.